E.J. Topper’s “Colorful Thoughts” – Black & White
Black and White: The Key to Living Life in Color
When it comes to choosing clothing colors, surely nothing is simpler than black and white? Up to a point, says Topper: “At the risk of sounding deliberately contrary, black and white isn’t always black and white. As with any other combination, there are choices to be made and decisions that can affect how good you look and how great you feel.”
It’s not that we want to complicate matters here, far from it. But it’s high time to take a fresh look at the wonderful range of possibilities in a world of black and white. So, let’s shake things up a little. And as ever, there are Topper’s Top Tips to help you make the right choices.
Monochrome Moan #1 – The Same Old Same Old?
There is a school of thought that says formal wear exists only to cut down individuality. Everybody can look the same and forget about fashion. Unsurprisingly, Topper disagrees: “I love formal wear. Most of all, I love making it my own. The black suit and white dress shirt should be of the very best quality possible. They are the blank canvas. The colors I use to paint are what make the outfit my own: from bright bow ties to subversive socks, the fun is just beginning. Nothing in black and white to stop me!”
Monochrome Moan #2 – The Men in Black
When it comes to wearing black in the workplace, Topper has some key observations: “Black isn’t about intimidation, it’s about style. If you’re going to wear a black suit to work, make sure it lightens the mood with some witty touches of color too. Experiment with shirts other than pure white, even pushing as far as bright red. The contrast will be fun and it’s a signal that you’re serious but not too serious. When sticking to a black suit and white shirt, thread scarlet laces into classic Oxfords and wait for folks to notice!”
Monochrome Moan #3 – “That” Black Leather Jacket
We all know somebody who insists on wearing that leather jacket. It may be an older relative, or a colleague, or even a best buddy. But each offending item will have much in common: tatty rather than lived in, creased and dull, more green than black and in need of the dry cleaner (or the dog parlor). On this, as on so much, Topper is clear: “If your favorite leather jacket is ‘lived in’ but nobody else in their right mind would live in it, it’s time to move out. Invest in a new signature piece and start creating fresh memories.”
There’s Nothing in Black and White (Exclusively)
It’s not written anywhere that black and white are exclusively for formal dress. Mixing them up can bring the predictability of the familiar “penguin suit” in from the cold. Some of the most stylish fashion effects you can achieve take black and white as the basic framework for a series of color intrusions, from the barely there to the unapologetically outrageous. As ever, Topper has Top Tips to help.
Black and White Set Piece 1 – “The Checkered Career”
Topper believes there are times when a ‘checkered career’ can be a positive pick-me-up in the work place: “Well chosen, a black and white checked necktie looks suave and authoritative. It will draw the key elements of the classic white shirt and black suit combination together and give them a lift at the same time. For a hint more of flamboyance, continue the motif with a checked handkerchief square in the front breast pocket. Or even get playful with polka dots. After all, in business, ‘who flairs wins’.”
Black and White Set Piece 2 – “The Reverse Takeover”
Topper says: “Black and white has passed into the language as the sequence we all think of automatically. But how about reversing things and talking in terms of white and black, for a change? Especially for summer occasions, think about a white suit and a black shirt. Or go for a white jacket with black pants. The change in emphasis will create an entirely new feel – formal for sure, yet lighter and more festive. And nothing beats the elegance of an expertly knotted white bow tie.”
Black and White Set Piece 3 – “Time to Raise the (Two) Tone”
For generations, golfers have been familiar with the joys of the two-tone shoe. But Topper believes that this fancy footwear doesn’t have to come exclusively with spikes and be restricted solely to the fairway: “It might come as a surprise, but I freely admit that I love the sheer exuberance of two-tone shoes. And they’re at their finest in black and white. Pair a pair with your formal wear and enjoy a hint of Gatsby. They work splendidly as brogues or tasseled loafers. Or for irreverence, go for two-tone sneakers.”
Have a (Black and White) Ball
Black and white endures as perhaps the simplest yet most elegant and longest lasting fashion statement for gentlemen. And this definitive combination really doesn’t have to be limited to formal wear.
Don’t be afraid to re-combine black and white to achieve stunning new effects. At the same time, don’t abandon tradition entirely. For example, a black topcoat – especially in cashmere – is a signature investment for a whole variety of occasions. An upscale black leather jacket can be the very smartest of casual wear. Belts, gloves, neckties and wallets featuring black can all add gravity and presence to an outfit. And there’s no doubt that a black suit with a white shirt and no necktie simply whispers the ultimately authoritative and confident take on smart causal.
Every day, fashion evolves. Rule are bent, broken and even discarded completely. But to one rule, and one rule alone, E.J. Topper sticks like glue: “Gentlemen, please, I NEVER want to see white socks with black dress shoes!” Who’s going to be the first to dare to defy him?
Get more of Topper's advice on any of the color palettes here: